A glimpse of what Raiders’ 2021 season may look like
There is plenty of optimism with the arrival of Gus Bradley coaching the defensive side of the ball for the Las Vegas Raiders in 2021.
After years of fielding terrible defenses, Raiders fans have been clamoring for a change at the top of that unit for over a year now and many have said the defense simply has to be just “average” to give the team a chance at the playoffs.
Luckily for those people who have argued that point, the new Raiders defensive coordinator has fielded average units for the past three years. Bradley’s best season as the defensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Chargers came in 2017, however the advanced stats used in this article are only available for 2018 and later.
The NFL is known as a “What have you done for me lately” league, and with that in mind, lets take a look at what Bradley has accomplished recently as the defensive coach in Los Angeles.
Rushing the Quarterback
- 2018: Blitz percentage 17% (30th), 38 Sacks (20th), 61 Hurries (27th), 133 Pressures (27th)
- 2019: Blitz percentage 13.7% (32nd), 30 Sacks (28th), 64 Hurries (5th), 125 Pressures (27th)
- 2020: Blitz percentage 16.3% (32nd), 27 Sacks (25th), 58 Hurries (13th), 143 Pressures (18th)
Average: Blitz percentage (32nd), Sacks (24th), Hurries (15th), Pressures (24th)
Bradley is notorious for being one of, if not the most conservative signal caller on defense during his time in the league. There have been four instances in the last three years of a defense calling less than 100 total blitzes in a year, and Bradley has coached two of those units (he called 104 in 2018).
Bradley prefers to rush the passer with four defensive linemen. However that worked when he had Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. If the pairing of Yannick Ngakoue and Maxx Crosby don’t measure up to the standard, then it will be incumbent upon Bradley to start dialing up more blitzes, something he hasn’t done much of during his career.
The hurry stat is interesting so lets attempt to provide context. The cover 3 scheme Bradley runs is well known for keeping defenders between the end-zone and the receivers. Derek Carr has even commented during press conferences prior to playing the Chargers under Bradley that the scheme “keeps everything in front of them.” The emphasis on not giving up the big play will be a welcome change and it also might lead to opposing quarterbacks to hold onto the ball longer, waiting for something to get open.
Defending the Pass
- 2018 NY/A 6.2 (10th), 1stD 178 (6th), Air Yards 2443 (18th), YAC 1937 (19th)
- 2019 NY/A 6.5 (21st), 1stD 156 (3rd), Air Yards 1827 (4th), YAC 1537 (3rd)
- 2020 NY/A 6.3 (15th), 1st D 186 (8th), Air Yards 2390 (20th), YAC 1597 (4th)
Average: NY/A (15th), 1stD (6th), Air Yards (14th), YAC (9th)
Net yards per attempt is a great way to gauge how effective a defense is stopping the opposing quarterback. Outside of a top 10 finish in 2018 (barely), Bradley’s units haven’t been quite as successful. However the small fluctuations (6.2 to 6.5) is indicative of a potentially achievable result in 2021.
The most impressive stat here however is how frequently Bradley’s units finish in the top 10 in 1st Downs allowed. For comparison the Raiders only surrendered less than 200 1st Downs through the air one time under Paul Guenther (2018).
Going back to to the coverage schemes Guenther will employ, we will see the secondary in more optimal positions to defend the pass or at the very least make a tackle shortly after the receiver catches the ball. The yards after catch numbers from 2019 and 2020 are another indicator that Bradley’s defenders simply rally to tackle the ball carrier much better than average.
Predicting 2021 Numbers
It is tough to extrapolate the figures from Bradley’s tenure in Los Angeles and simply say “the Raiders will be in that same ballpark.” Even though he brings over his coaching staff (and Casey Hayward), this defense lacks the star power of Joey Bosa and Derwin James to confidently say Bradley will hit the ground running in 2021.
Guys like Ngakoue, Cory Littleton, and Jonathan Abram will have the most important roles getting this defense to improve in a manner good enough to get the Raiders to the playoffs. If each of those defenders plays the majority of the season and at a high level it is possible that this defense could finish in the top 15.
Here is the more likely outcome however:
- Sacks: 26th
- Hurries: 10th
- Pressures: 19th
- NY/A: 21st
- 1st Downs (Passing): 17th
- Air Yards: 19th
- YAC: 17th
And there you have it, the Raiders should have a middling defense next year barring major injuries and the coaches’ ability to get this defense up to speed. Perhaps that all this team needs to secure a playoff berth, but we as fans should hope for better.